Kevin Powers served with the US Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. He wrote a book about his experiences, called The Yellow Birds, which I have not read , but fully intend to.
I have, however, read his amazing book of poetry, and I wanted to share these two poems with my readers.
His voice is one that needs to be heard, because he is able to express so beautifully what other voices cannot.
Here is where appreciation starts, the boy
in a dusty velour tracksuit almost getting shot.
When I say boy, I mean it. When I say almost
getting shot, I mean exactly that. For bringing
unexploded mortars right up to us
takes a special kind of courage I don’t have.
A dollar for each one, I’m told,
on orders from Brigade HQ
to let the children do the dirty work.
When I say, I’d say fuck that, let the bastards find them
with the heels of boots and who care if I mean us
as bastards and who cares if heels of boots mean things
that once were, the way grass once was a green thing
and now is not, the way the muezzin call once was
five times today and now is not
and when I say heel of boot I hope you’ll appreciate
that I really mean the gone foot, any one of us
timbered and inert and when I say green
I mean like fucking Nebraska, wagon wheels on the prairie
and other things that can’t be appreciated
until you’re really far away and they come up
as points of reference.
I don’t know what Nebraska looks like.
I’ve never been. When I say Nebraska
I mean the idea of, the way an ex-girlfriend of mine
once talked about the idea of a gun. But guns are not ideas.
They are not things to which comparisons are made. They
one weight in my hand when the little boy crests the green
and the possibilities of shooting him or not extend out
like the spokes of a wheel. The hills are not green anymore
and in my mind they never were, thought when I say they
I mean I’m talking about reality. I appreciate that, too,
the hills were green,
someone else had paid him
for his scavenging, one less
exploding thing beneath our feet.
I appreciate the fact
that for at least one day I don’t have to decide
between dying and shooting a little boy.
Think not of battles, but rather after,
when the tremor in your right leg
becomes a shake you cannot stop, when the burned man’s
tendoned cheeks are locked into a scream that,
before you sank the bullet in his brain to end it,
had been quite loud. Think of how he still seems to scream.
Think of not caring. Call this “relief”.
Think heat waves rising from the dust.
Think days of rest, how the sergeant lays
the .22 into your palm and says the dogs
outside the wire have become a threat
to good order and discipline:
some boys have taken them as pets, they spread
disease, they bit a colonel preening for a TV crew.
Think of afternoons in T-shirts and shorts,
the unending sun, the bit of sweat in the eyes.
Think of missing so often it becomes absurd.
Think quick pop, yelp, then puckered fur.
Think skinny ribs. Think smell.
Think almost grief, but
not quite getting there.
Kevin is an absolutely amazing poet, who defies pretty much every stereotype of brutish, insensitive, uncaring, emotionally stunted soldier there is.
Consider buying his books.
I’ve already ordered mine.
Lots of love,